Published February 09, 2013
As the United States and many of its allies decrease defense spending, America's adversaries are doing the opposite.
It's still unclear whether Washington will miss a March 1 deadline for avoiding sweeping automatic military cuts. But regardless, Russia is set to surpass U.S. defense spending -- when looked at as a percentage of GDP -- in just two years. By the same measure, China is slated to surpass the U.S. in 2035.
Even so, the United States still towers over other countries in GDP. The U.S. GDP was $15 quadrillion in 2011, according to the World Bank, compared to Russia's $1.9 quadrillion and China's $7.3 quadrillion.
"You've seen double-digit increases in Chinese defense spending for more than 15 years now," said Jim Thomas, with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "And that really should not only give pause to the United States, but it really should be a source of concern for the countries in the region as well."
In the latest example of cutbacks in the face of more drastic cuts starting next month, the USS Truman -- which was slated to deploy Friday to the Persian Gulf -- had its deployment canceled this week. The Navy announced that for the first time in two years it cannot afford to have more than one aircraft carrier in the Gulf.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned it will get worse if Congress doesn't find a solution before March 1.
"Instead of being a first-rate power in the world, we'd turn into a second-rate power. That would be the result of sequester," Panetta said. Sequester is the name for the automatic cuts first passed into law in the summer of 2011 as part of the debt-ceiling deal.
The president's top military adviser concurred.
"You won't find this chairman arguing that we need to do more with less. You'll find me arguing that if that happens we need to do less with less," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
In the Middle East, the Gulf states are increasing their defense spending to counter Iran. As for Iran itself, Thomas said it's difficult to tell how much the country is spending on defense.
"These guys have been going gangbusters rolling out prototypes of advanced weapons systems, whether it is new missiles, new aircraft, new drone aircraft," he said, adding it's tough to tell how authentic those systems are.
But others argue that even with the automatic cuts, the U.S. defense budget will still dwarf that of its adversaries and allies -- when considered as a raw amount, as opposed to a percentage of the country's economy.
"If you look at it on a global level, the overall U.S. military spending is roughly 40 percent of all the military spending in the world," said Peter Singer, a senior foreign policy fellow at Brookings Institution. "So if you imagine for every dollar spent on militaries in the world, 40 cents of it is spent by the U.S. And roughly about another 45 cents of it is spent by our allies. If sequestration happens, we go from spending about 40 cents out of every dollar to about 38 cents out of every dollar. So you decline, but not by this massive amount."
Taxpayers spent $711 billion on defense in 2011 -- the equivalent of the next 13 largest defense budgets combined.
The second largest defense budget in the world that year was China's, which officially is reported at $142.9 billion -- a sixth the size of the U.S. total.
Russia's is reported at nearly $72 billion.
Thomas, though, said those figures are "misleading" because the United States deals with defending allies and interests in multiple theaters.
"This is not a defense problem that, frankly, any other country in the world has," he said.
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.